DSLD and Peruvian Paso horses

DSLD (degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis) is found in many breeds of horses…. not just in Peruvian Pasos. However, unfortunately, Peruvian Pasos have a disproportionate, larger amount of this disease, more than any other breed I am aware of.

This is undoubtedly the result of the very small gene pool that now provides the foundation for the current breed, a change that took place after the agricultural land reform in Peru, as it developed from a workhorse to a show horse.

The problem is also exacerbated by the facts that Peruvian Pasos have been selectively bred with extra long pasterns (to soften their ride) and with a more than usual cycle hocked conformation (to make them reach under themselves further). These structural characteristics just tend to exacerbate the problem.

Anyone buying a Peruvian Paso horse would be well served to be aware of this (above mentioned) information and purchase one with eyes wide-open. Peruvian Pasos are undoubtedly (on average) the world’s smoothest riding horse. The majority of them stay sound through a normal lifespan, like any other horse. However, buying one is something of a crapshoot – a high-risk proposition.

If you purchase one that does not have suspensory ligament problems you are likely to love the horse and become a big fan of the breed. If, on the other hand, you are among those unfortunate ones who buy a horse that has (or develops) leg problems, you are (as you know only too well) in for disappointment and heartbreak.

The reality of DSLD not only causes the situation you find yourself in, it creates a real dilemma for the dedicated breeders of Peruvian Pasos (like me). Of course, as a reputable breeder, I want all my customers to get a horse they will enjoy, have good hoofs, and be happy with.

I do not want to purposely sell someone a horse that I know is “weak”, or is going to “break down” soon after they purchase it. And yet, as a breeder of Peruvian Pasos (for twenty-five years now), I have never been able to be absolutely sure. I have never wanted to cheat anyone. But, I need to sell horses.

After all, I’m not running a zoo! So, I have always recommended that all my clients have the horses vet checked by their own vet (one they pay for), and I recommend that they ensure the horse, at least for the first year. That way, if it should turn out that the horse develops DSLD, my conscience is clear, and I can live with my “no return – no whining” policy.

Let me tell you, you can study this problem to death. In fact, many people have. Still, the only viable real long-term solution is to have all breeders stop breeding horses that have DSLD. That, of course, is easier said than done. After all, there is a lot at stake in this.

People have both their pocketbooks and their egos heavily invested in these beautiful, often expensive horses. And the most popular bloodlines, the horses that sell for the biggest bucks, are probably the breed’s worst offenders. Of course, it’s easy to blame people for being unwilling to confront this problem, especially if you have bought one of the affected horses.

But, put yourself in the shoes of the breeders. I am sure you can see how difficult it would be to end up having to cull a substantial part of your beloved herd.

Because of my awareness of this problem, and because of the resistance of many of the owners and breeders to solving it, I decided about six years ago to stop breeding pureblood Peruvian Pasos. We now outcross all our remaining Peruvian Paso mares to a big, strong, good-natured Mountain Pleasure Horse stallion from Kentucky. His name is “Big Red”.

We love the horses we are producing. They all seem to be strong and sound. Frankly, I am glad to no longer have to deal with DSLD at the personal level. It is hard on everyone, buyers and sellers alike. Because I have loved Peruvian Paso horses and have given them so much of my professional life, I do hope they will face, tackle, and solve this disease that so undermines the reputation and future of the breed.

But for me, at this point in my career, it is all academic. Personally, I will never breed another pureblood Peruvian Paso. I’ve left this behind, and moved on. We’re enjoying our new cross, our “Paso-Pleasure Horses”, and we think they are the right horse for today’s Pleasure-Trail Riding marketplace, horses that are “beautiful to behold, smooth to ride, and easy to handle”.